The Snowman, Peacock Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

A new Christmas tradition is being established. The Peacock Theatre is now filled with children whose parents were themselves children when Raymond Briggs's book The Snowman, and then the film version, came out. The stage show, a Birmingham Rep production, has been revived at the Peacock every year since 1998. This year, the production is tied in with Age Concern's Fight the Freeze appeal.

A new Christmas tradition is being established. The Peacock Theatre is now filled with children whose parents were themselves children when Raymond Briggs's book The Snowman, and then the film version, came out. The stage show, a Birmingham Rep production, has been revived at the Peacock every year since 1998. This year, the production is tied in with Age Concern's Fight the Freeze appeal.

Like the book, the show tells the story without words. Scenes are acted out, half-mime, half-dance. Howard Blake's score includes the popular "Walking in the Air", on tape, while a live band plays the rest of the music. This is a show for small children, who exclaim at the cuddly costumes and wave back at the Snowman. Older children fidget - on stage, the tale doesn't have Briggs's direct simplicity, and the jolliness can be overworked. The production is lifted, however, by its snow and flying effects.

The story, directed by Bill Alexander and choreographed by Robert North, is broken up into simple incidents. The little boy builds a snowman, which comes magically to life. In the first act, the boy shows the Snowman his parents' house, his world. In the second, the two fly away to the North Pole.

The flying is the hit of the evening. Boy and Snowman aren't so much walking in the air as skating there. They glide slowly and then swoop across the stage in big arcs. When they land, they come down in a nippy zigzag.

Ruari Murchison's designs frame the stage with snow-laden pines. Falling snow is shown with drifting spots of light. Layers of gauze give a sense of depth, of snow falling over the depth of the stage. We see the boy's house, inside and out, on several levels; it pulls away to show larger sitting-room and kitchen scenes, or foxes and rabbits running over the snow outside.

Harry Johnson is clear and determined as the little boy, kicking impatiently as his parents dress him, and building his Snowman with dedication. The parents are 1950s creations, bustling around with pinnies, pipes and (we discover) false teeth.

Building the Snowman, the boy rolls a snowball from one wing to another. With each journey, it gets larger - a basic joke, but fun. Carol singers stop to admire the Snowman in progress. Robert North creates dances for the things that the boy shows the snowman - his toys, his cat, fruit from the bowl. The dances are basic skips and hops. North keeps things brisk, leaving Murchison's costumes to define the various characters.

The North Pole scenes are the most successful, and very popular with this young audience. Penguins waddle about, and Snowmen from different lands do national dances. Father Christmas is welcomed with roars of approval. Jack Frost, with spiky silver hair, looms threateningly on the backdrop. He and the ballerina doll have the evening's main dances, ballet numbers complete with jetés and pointes.

The evening ends with dancing curtain calls. As the Snowmen and animals scamper back for applause, snow falls on the entranced audience.

To 9 January (0870 737 7737)

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